THE LOOKS on the faces dramatically demonstrated the awkwardness of the moment. This meeting was different from most, and it was easy to tell.

The boys from Boy Scout Troop 380 in Hampstead, who only minutes earlier had been running around the Wesley United Methodist Church parking lot in full pre-Christmas frenzy, stood there silently. They were meeting their "adopted" family, bringing boxes of food, presents and a Christmas tree to five people who needed a little help this year.

In the kitchen of the Carroll County farmhouse, they were greeted by a couple who had fallen upon hard times this year. A heart attack had left the husband -- uncovered by medical insurance -- with several thousand dollars in unpaid medical bills. Although both worked -- and earned just a few dollars a month over the limit for state aid -- it was hard enough just getting by with three kids. A real Christmas with all the gifts and trimmings seemed out of the question.

Working through the Adopt-A-Family program, the Scouts of Troop 380 had been working for several weeks gathering toys, clothing and food. Wednesday night the presents were wrapped, the food boxed, and there was an appointment to be kept.

As we stood there in the kitchen, the conversation was stilted at first. The adults exchanged pleasantries. It was obvious that the moment was just as awkward for our adopted family as it was for us. People don't like to admit they need help to do what they had always been able to do in the past.

The children were quite excited. Although they didn't quite know what to make of this group of strangers standing in their kitchen, their eyes focused on the brightly wrapped gifts.

"Santa come," said the 2-year-old.

After a few minutes of conversation, it was time to leave. Our adopted family repeatedly thanked us, and the appropriate holiday greetings were exchanged.

On the way home, my 12-year-old son -- a child of the middle-class suburbs -- was somewhat confused. "Dad, they had a TV and a stereo," he said. "I thought we were helping a poor family."

I tried as best as I could to explain there are all kinds of poverty, and that although our adopted family was going through a difficult period right now, it wasn't always like that. I tried to tell him that homeless people aren't the only ones that need help, especially this time of year. I told him about different kinds of poverty, and about the obligation of sharing what we can with those who aren't as fortunate.

I think he understood; at least I hope he did. At the very least, I hope the 12 boys of Boy Scout Troop 380 learned a little something about the spirit of Christmas. But more important, I hoped they learned a little lesson about life.

Tom Osborne is a member of The Evening Sun staff.

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